How to Photograph a Funeral :: 4 Tips I Hope you Never have to Use

How to Photograph a Funeral :: 4 Tips I Hope you Never have to Use


I recently photographed the funeral of a beautiful 16 year old girl.

It was the most challenging shoot of my career (times infinity). The work was heart wrenching and overwhelming, horrifying and EXHAUSTIVE and . . . ultimately . . . it was tender, intimate, and astonishingly and inexplicably, beautiful. I left that day completely changed. As a photographer and as a human being.

“Lisa, would you like me to come photograph her funeral when the time comes?” The words surprised me as much as they did her, this stranger, who I’d scarcely known an hour, and yet felt had been my friend for a lifetime.

I’ll never forget her long pause, her slow, deep inhalation . . . or the tear filled “yes” that followed.

Two months later, I found myself in a room filled with grief stricken friends and family, tearfully saying “goodbye” a beautiful little angel, Kalyn. (You can read the whole story, here.)

4 Tips to Photographing a Funeral:

Be Sensitive.

Obviously this goes without saying, but if ever there were a situation that was worthy of a photo-journalistic approach, this would be it. Stay out of the way. Give people space. Do everything in your power to be invisible, and then know. . . that you will fail. You will feel like you stick out like a sore thumb. Which leads me to my next piece of advice. . .

Seek Open Communication.

  1. ALWAYS ask first. Do NOT show up at a funeral, camera in hand, without first receiving permission from the family of the deceased. Otherwise, your attempt at heartfelt service and sensitivity will appear callous and remarkably presumptuous.
  2. After offering to shoot Kalyn’s funeral, I assured and reassured Lisa that there was no pressure whatsoever behind my offer. If she didn’t want me to photograph the event, I would not be upset or hurt in ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM. Definitely make sure to give the person an easy out. You’d never want them to have you there simply because they didn’t feel comfortable saying “no.” People are so completely compromised mentally and emotionally at times like these; help them out by making CERTAIN they’re comfortable with your offer.
  3. You must also establish open communication with your point of contact in order to clarify expectations. I told Lisa, Kalyn’s mother, that I would not shoot the funeral unless everyone in the immediate family agreed upon it and felt comfortable with my presence (I highly recommend you do the same—nothing would be as horrible as doing something so completely difficult and overwhelming while simultaneously feeling like you were unwelcome).
  4. Communicate about the type of coverage the family is open to. For example, when Jon photographed our son’s funeral (more on that at the end of this post) I told him that I didn’t want any images of Gavin’s body. Gavin was so very sick at the time of his death, and he had suffered from severe Edema. Without going into further detail, I’ll simply say—I wanted to remember my healthy, vibrant child, so I did not want images of his body. I only wanted images of the details, family and guests. Lisa and Tao (Lisa’s husband, Kalyn’s father) however, were very anxious to have images of their daughter. If in doubt, ASK. If you’re not in doubt, STILL ASK.

Quick Word on Camera Settings and Gear.

I shot this entire event on my Canon, 5d Mk II and my L series 50mm 1.2 lens. I didn’t want to be distracting by changing lenses constantly, and the 50mm is the most versatile lens I own (is it surprising that a fixed focal length lens is so very versatile?? Shoot with it once and you’ll see what I mean). I recommend shooting with a 50mm or an 85mm fixed focal length (or similar) or with a zoom in the 24-70 or the 70-200 mm range. I opted against using my 70-200mm 2.8, because aside from being so HUGE, the majority of the event was shot inside, in a very poorly lit room. I needed my lower apertures in order to accommodate those circumstances without using flash. My recommendation would be DO NOT SHOOT WITH A FLASH. It’s just too intrusive for this kind of circumstance.

Images of this nature are more about EMOTION than they are about composition and technical know how. If you aren’t confidnet in your ability to shoot in manual settings, shoot in Program mode or Automatic. Set yourself up to be able to manage your gear as fluidly as you possibly can. When you’re already stressed by the nature of the event, don’t add the unnecessary pressure of shooting in a camera mode that you’re not completely confident in your ability to manage.

Be Confident.

Believe in your ability to do what needs to be done, and you’ll be amazed at your capacity to sensitively navigate the complexity of the event. It’s hard, it’s emotional, and you ARE up for the challenge.* Remember what you’re doing this for, WHO you’re doing this for, and let that drive you when the task feels emotional and difficult to carry out. You are capable. Take a deep breath and keep reminding yourself of that.

Be willing to take breaks if you need to. More than once, I had to step into an adjacent room and regroup. That’s to be expected. Give yourself space to take a break if you need it.

Post Script :: Why images of this nature matter so very much ::

When my son died, my dear friend, Jonathan Canlas, offered to photograph the funeral. I didn’t even blink. I inherently KNEW how much our family would cherish those images. Knowing that Gavin’s brothers (my living sons: ages 6, 5 and 3 at the time) likely wouldn’t remember much about about the day, I was distinctly anxious to have the funeral documented as a way for them to remain connected to this important time in our family’s life. (View those images here.)

Viewing these images is always a tender (and often a deeply painful) experience for me, however after moving through the past 2 years since we said “goodbye,” I have learned time and time again, just how valuable these images are. Not only do they help us remember, they also help us heal. When I look at these images, I am once again intimately connected to my grief. That might sound counterproductive to some. . . but for those who have experienced significant loss through death, you’ll understand how important it is to seek out ways to FEEEEEEEL. Yes, this is a photography post, but I’d be copping out if I didn’t have the courage to illustrate HOW and WHY these images are so deeply valuable to those left behind. It is human tendency to run from grief and pain, to hide. This is particularly true when the pain is as horrifying and unpredictable as that of the grief that accompanies the death of a loved one. Every time I look at the gift Jon gave us by capturing these memories for us, I realize that it is not only a gift of remembering. . . it is one of healing. I watch, I cry, I feel, and every time I do. . .I heal just a little bit more.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Natalie Norton is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • David L. February 2, 2013 01:11 am

    Just started shooting photography. Have a very expensive camera. I getting into it very heavily. shoot a funeral so far. Show it to the deseased wife and daughter. Put it on a dvd with music. They liked the work. Need more advise how to shoot these events. Please respond back.

  • Sonja Foster January 12, 2013 02:51 pm

    This was a beautiful article. I've been thinking about doing funeral photography for about eight years and after being laid off last May, I've decided to do it full time. I believe funeral photography helps people heal. So far, I've photographed one funeral -

  • Alicia May 11, 2012 02:40 am

    I read this article two days before the funeral of a friend's husband, who died suddenly at age 42. I'd never considered funeral photography before, but felt like the article was a sign that I should offer my services. My friend accepted, and here's the result:

  • Nigel May 3, 2012 04:47 pm

    I recently attended the funeral of my best friend here in Thailand. He was Indian and Hindu. His family arrived from India, terribly distressed and decidied that a shortened version of a Thai funeral would be appropriate. My friend had lived here for some years.
    I considered taking photos but decided against it for several reasons. His family were too distraught to discuss the issue and there was a mix of religions involved which may have caused some problems. Many of the people attending the funeral were Buddhists, his family Hindu and maybe 40 or 50 Christians there as well.
    My decision was personally difficult but I consider, even in hindsight, that it was the correct one.

  • PaulB April 25, 2012 10:03 pm

    Thanks for an interesting article, never considered photographing a funeral before. Not easy.

  • paige April 24, 2012 11:35 pm

    Thank you...4 days after I read this article a friend of mine's 15 year old daughter died. I'm truly grateful for your article and guidance. God Bless you.

  • Joel April 24, 2012 12:36 pm

    Great article. My hobby is photography, but my occupation and passion is being a funeral director. You are 100 percent accurate tha sensitivity is a MUST. Not only should immediate family agree to this, but all other concerned parties should be aware that you have been, indeed, given permission to photograph the funeral. I have seen a photographer nearly "punched out" by someone that didn't realize that permission was granted, or even requested. Of course you know that I would recommend that you use the funeral director as a resource. As funeral directors, we are quite often used as a "buffer" between the family and outside interests. The funeral director can also provide you with a great vantage point and other little "perks" that may be helpful such as a place to keep equipment, etc.
    FYI---I have been asked numerous times to shoot a family photo, since all of them are gathered together for the funeral. They can't really ask one of the family to shoot the photo, since they then wouldn't be a part of the photo. I am always happy to do this since it is probably one of the only times that the whole family will be together. Hence, my photography habit and funeral directing come together.

  • Type6 April 23, 2012 08:41 pm

    I love a good 50 as much as everyone else, but saying that it's versatile is simply wrong. 50mm can be much to marrow if you need a good wide shot and to short when you can't get close. I'd go with the 24-105 if there was enough light and or the 2.8 24-70 in darker conditions.

  • Lesley April 23, 2012 11:09 am

    I agree with Gary. It may be polite to let clergy know, but I don't believe it's their call. Same goes for any other non-Christian religion. You may find that there are even clergy who will help you find suitable locations to station yourself. In this sense, how is it any different from a wedding?
    I was unable to attend my mum's funeral many years ago as I live overseas and it was difficult to organise flights at that time. My sister and I agreed that she would take / organise photos and video of the service and for this I am very grateful. The minister was very helpful.

  • Gary April 23, 2012 10:12 am

    Whose ethics? Yours? The family has all the moral authority I need.

  • Paul April 22, 2012 08:14 am

    Hi, speaking as a fanatical photographer and priest I feel it important to state that photography should always be agreed with the clergy in advance of the service, it is unethical to photo graph

  • Alisa April 21, 2012 04:37 pm

    Dear Natalie,
    What an incredibly moving article. It truly was a honour to share some moments in your life. Your photographs are an incredible tribute to life, and loss. May I also include my heartfelt sympathy at your loss but having those photographs would be of immeasurable comfort, for you and for the wonderful family you offered your services to. This is something I would never imagined and I was touched and overwhelmend at your sensitivity and wonderful advise. May I never have to use these tips but thank you for your time, honesty and inspirational remembrance of a loved one....
    Love and Light!

  • Jason April 21, 2012 12:44 pm

    Im sorry I couldn't watch the whole video. I used to be tough, strong as nails - then we had my little girl Ellie almost two years ago. She's fine.... but as I watched the pictures and the music was playing, I started empathizing with the father of that little girl, and thats it. I watched a few more seconds - saw how young that girl was in her casket, and had to hit the stop button. I can't call myself a tuff guy anymore.

    More power to you for being able to do this, but for all the money in the world I would not be able to pursue this type of photography assignments. Someone has to, I get it, but I love taking photos of happy moments.

    Don't get me wrong, you did a fantastic job.


  • Elizabeth April 20, 2012 11:22 pm

    I remember when my father passed away in 2006 the funeral home stated we can bring a camera with us to document the day and moments. I thought "who in the world in the brings a camera to a funeral? Are they crazy??? Are they sick???" well I cetainly did and I am so glad I did. I got to photograph aunts and uncles and family members that I have not seen in many, many years. I still look at the pictures today and remember my father and the years I had with him. I am so glad I did take the pictures.

    I had to repeat the process in 2009 when I lost my mom. Been a few hard years and I still am so happy to see their pictures.

    Now I just want to cry...all in all a wonderful article and I truly am this subject was covered.

  • Lesley April 20, 2012 04:19 pm

    I always have a camera with me and all my many relatives know this. When our much loved matriarch died four years ago aged 106, her remaining sons asked me to take photos. They had a 'professional', but they wanted photos from my perspective. It was a Chinese (taoist) funeral with lots of joss sticks and noise and colour. I was close to the old lady, despite being a grand daughter in law and despite having to speak in a dialect and grow into a new culture I didn't know til I married it was very comforting to me to be able to record this special part of her passing. A Chinese funeral can go on for days, with a wake every night and prayers during the day as well. In between the various sessions, we set up a screen and projector to show a slideshow of the previous day & evening's proceedings. I made sure I caught everyone who wanted to be photographed, candid, and was mindful and respectful of those who didn't want and everyone was happy. I gave dvds of the photos and video clips to each family although some find it too painful to actually watch, even now. However, they are grateful to have them and want them for the future.
    Thank you for this article. It is a very sensitive subject and has to be handled very carefully and with respect.

  • Jenni Davies April 20, 2012 03:56 pm

    Thank you Natalie, for sharing your friends funeral photographs with us so sensitively and poignantly. They are so utterly moving and beautiful. It brought back memories of our own loss - not recorded, but so familiar in these scenes. You are so right about reconnecting with our grief. Its so easy to gloss over our feelings and forget to remember - and everyone deserves acknowledgement that they mattered and still matter to us.

  • Gale Clark April 20, 2012 01:57 pm

    I have done several funerals at the request of family and friends. I find your advice excellent from both a photographer's and a family member's viewpoint. Thank you for addressing a sensitve topic. When the family wants photos of their loved one, I always try to go to the funeral home when no one is present. In addition to the most sensitive portraits possible, I try to find at least one angle in some sort of reflective surface in the viewing room. It softens the overall effect and has been very well received. Another treasured photo is from the back of the service, catching both the emotion and the physical gathering. I wish someone had done this at my Grandmother's funeral. To me, she was the most wonderful person in the world, but I was awed and comforted by the jam-packed pews, the kind folks standing in every available space and the huge crowd that came with us to the cemetary. How I wish I had a visual record of that memory.

  • Chet Blake April 20, 2012 12:31 pm

    Thank you for the brave efforts to explain the long lasting effect and purpose of having the funeral photographed.
    I lost a son who was age 14 some 21 yrs ago in July and I wish I had some memories for his young sister (4 at the time) and older brother to look back on as a reminder of the young man and soul soul we miss so much.
    You have gone above and beyond. Be at peace that you have preformed a great service to all.
    Thank You.

  • Pat Downs April 20, 2012 12:00 pm

    @tomj52:" Sorry... should be visible to public now. I moved some galleries around today and forgot to adjust. Thanks!

  • TomJ52 April 20, 2012 11:51 am

    To Pat Downs - what is the password to see your gallery for Deputy Chris Romeros? I tried to see the pics but it requires a password. Thanks.

  • Carol April 20, 2012 11:51 am

    Capturing funerals is not one of my happiest jobs but it certainly is nice for the family to have something to look at should they choose to do so. I have videoed a couple and had my brothers done (it seems to me I was the photographer at his as well). I photograph and then make a slideshow and sometimes an album for the family I actually said at the one I did this past Monday I was going to add funerals to my business card (I won't really be doing that). I do not get paid for doing this it is a labor of love for the family.

  • Gayla Baer April 20, 2012 11:22 am

    My family lost my older brother at the age of 13 (I was 10). I wish someone would have thought of doing this at the time. At 40-something I struggle with keeping what memories I do have, vivid. From the time of his cerebral hemorrhage to the 16 days later when my parents were faced with the tough decision to end life support, there's time I lost entirely.

    What an amazing gift you gave to this poor family. No parent should ever know the heartbreak of burying a child. Your amazing grace and style is obvious in the way you captured the deep emotion of those who loved and lost. God really is very good! He sent you at just the right time to capture the final goodbyes that were blanketed by shock and most likely would not have been remembered. My parents remember very little about my brothers services - as a parent now, I can only imagine why. You have a real talent. I hope you embrace it fully.

  • Emric April 20, 2012 08:36 am

    Thank you for this. We said our goodbuys to a dear friend this week. I packed my camera along as I always do but did not have the heart to ask if I could cover the service wich was exceptionlly beautiful with grerat and tender video and photo moments. I finally talked to the family at the very end during the family lunch after the service and manage to take about 20 or so photographs. I did not realize how much they would mean to them. Now I will always regret not following my instinct and covering the whole service.

  • Kamel April 20, 2012 08:28 am

    This has been a tradition in our family for as long as cameras have been around. It was passed down to me when my granddad passed and I was old enough to hold a camera. The bad thing is that is when most the family shows up and will not see or hear from until the next one.

    It is our way of celebrating life and honoring their passing.

  • TomJ52 April 20, 2012 07:33 am

    Great article. A number of years ago a close friend who was also into photography asked me to help him record the funeral of a police officer who was killed in the line of duty. It took me awhile to say yes as I had some reservations about how I could tastefully and unobtrusively record such a heart wrenching event.

    But I am so glad I had faith in myself and my partner to record such a moving moment in time. As a result of that experience we were called on again to record another funeral of a police officer killed in the line of duty. Shortly after that we recorded the funeral of a fireman who died from cancer.

    In each opportunity we felt privileged to be chosen to record memories that we know the families cherish each and every day. I always kept in the back of my mind, if it was my funeral that was being photographed, what would I want my family to have as those lasting memories.

    By all means make sure the family is on board with you being present and exactly what they want pictures of. Nothing is more embarrassing then creating work and having the family upset that you violated their privacy.

  • Cheri A. April 20, 2012 05:51 am

    Thank you so much for an article that was not only informative, but very personal and extremely touching. Thanks, also, for sharing your personal photos of your child's funeral. Even though I don't know you, I felt very moved by the images. Photography is a hobby for me, but I seem to be the official photographer among my family and many of my friends. The tips and suggestions in your article will be very helpful should the time ever come that I'm asked to serve in this way. Blessings to you and your family.

  • tonyjr April 20, 2012 05:15 am

    I have done 6 so far .
    1. no flash
    2 . shoot raw + jpeg
    3 . I shoot everyone I can coming in door . All when seated . [ this is at mass and rosary . Don't take shots during service . ]
    4 . A wide shot of casket and flower wreaths .
    5 . Have enough memory cards .
    funeral home
    church for rosary
    church for services
    food after - could be at house or a hall
    6 . The cheapest way for me is to copy all the shots to DVD's . Right now I am at 16 dvd's from last one in January this year .

  • Kelly Carmichael April 20, 2012 04:30 am

    I too have been in the uneasy situation of photographing a funeral. My Brother-in-law's father passed away and I offered my services and they were accepted.

    You have hit the nail on the head with this article. Be invisible & you will still fail. Take breaks to regroup because you will need them, human nature and emotion does take over very quickly. Regardless how quiet you are, you are going to make noise at inappropriate times especially with an older camera that has mirrored shutter. Be sure to get photos from all perspectives. Shooting from the ground up to the casket, to a bugler or presenting of arms can provide some amazingly emotional images that are rarely seen.

    The number one suggestion I too have, be understanding, respectful and caring towards the family. If you break any of those rules just to get a shot, you need to put the camera in a trash can and walk away.

    If you never shoot a funeral consider yourself lucky, If you do shoot a funeral, consider yourself honored!

  • Pat Downs April 20, 2012 03:31 am

    @Gary re "I create a slide show for the family, with music accompaniment. iTunes is loaded with appropriate music. Out of the 3-500 pics, I usually have maybe 2 or 3 that I will print and have framed with matting. Usually, of the flag folded on the lap, or maybe while being folded by the Honor Guard. It’s a lot more work involved with a military funeral, but the satisfaction of knowing I have left the family with an heirloom that will survive for generations is joy for me. Before you make judgements about this type of photography, please view some of my work at webshots. And, understand that I am not a professional!"

    I love this idea, and may do this if I have time. I would also like to do a Blurb book for the family. Thanks for all your efforts, check out my gallery to see some nice Honor Guard pics ... they did a great job. Cheers.

  • Pat Downs April 20, 2012 03:08 am

    Good column and advice. Walk softly and carry a quiet camera, be compassionate, ask for permission. You can work with a longer lens, if discreet. One of the teles with VR or IS is good ... can hand hold and it doesn't have to be a big 2/8 lens. I recently had a deputy friend who died at 38 (shockingly, of a heart attack). As a newspaper photojournalist I have covered more than a few funerals including ones for police. Rarely have I felt "wanted" or welcome. This time, his fellow deputies and family said they would welcome me there, and for those who gave me stinkeye I either ignored them (I have thick skin after 25 yrs in newspapers!) or gently whispered that I was shooting for the family, and that ended it. I posted the images to my website to share, and got a lovely thank you from the widow a few weeks later. She apologized that on that day she was so distraught that she barely remembered anything, and that the photos were a great comfort to her, seeing all the people paying their respects and the lovely ceremony which she remembered little of. She also told me that her children and family would cherish the photos. As hard as they were to take at times, I am pleased to be able to use whatever talent I have for a gift like this. You can see the images here:

  • Mike April 20, 2012 03:03 am

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing. Now if I can just stop my eyes from watering, I can get back to work. Good job.

  • Bleng April 20, 2012 02:56 am

    Beautiful, touching, calm, lovely, and most importantly evoked feelings. Beautiful presentation. Black and white, soft voice and the one guitar.

  • Cheryl April 20, 2012 02:47 am

    Interesting article. Very touching photography. I personally don't know if I would ever be able to do it. Its not like a wedding or having a baby, or any other type of photography. Its a totally different set of emotions. I would feel like I am invading on other people's emotions with such a private time in their life. Even if I was asked to do it. It would be a very hard thing for me to do. I would probably break down. I wish I had the courage to do something like this. But then I would always ask myself...why would anyone want someone to photograph people in mourning? Why would you even want to remember that? But everyone has their reasons for wanting certain things, I guess I would have to be more open minded to that concept.

  • Sirichai April 20, 2012 02:47 am

    Thanks from my heart for the nice article.

  • HOOP April 20, 2012 02:23 am

    You might find this "strange" but 120 years ago Funeral Photography was the bread-n-butter of the photography business. There were more funeral shots taken than anything else. Glad to read that we are getting back to that era. I took photos of my grandmother's funeral in 1965 and those images are still poignant to our family 47 years later because of how many others of the mourners are now no longer with us. From a photojournalist perspective, be sure to remember and use The Life Formula for Photo Essays and you can't go wrong so long as you are "appropriate" in your approach.

  • Ajo Paul April 18, 2012 08:54 pm

    I was recently asked to cover my grandfather's funeral. I cannot explain the emotions I went through as a photographer asked to cover the event and also as a grieving member of the family.

  • Linda April 16, 2012 03:41 pm

    You never know what will happen when you begin your day. Last year for Veteran's Day my husband and I decided to take photographs at our town cemetery. Usually flags decorate the Vietnam and Koreans memorial and flags are displayed throughout the cemetery grounds. However this Veteran's Day the ceremonies were canceled due to rain. We decided it was still a great 18% gray day. As we were shooting, a woman slowly pulled up. It turned out she was tending too her nephews grave site. He has recently died saving some comrades in action in Afghanistan. She hesitated for a moment when she saw my camera and I felt the Holy Spirit encourage me to say " Would you like us to take some pictures." I would like to say that to this day it was the most rewarding thing to do for a fellow human being.

  • Gary April 15, 2012 03:56 pm

  • Gary April 15, 2012 03:51 pm

    Happy to see that others have done this type of photography. Great article. I have photographed over 50 funerals for the fallen American service men and women. As a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, we have escorted and served as flag attendees since the Phelps Baptist family started picketing their funerals. With all the motorcyclists in attendance, and ,the ceremonial process that takes place during a military funeral, it can be impressive. I started in 2006, and at a funeral we were attending I heard one of the immediate family say that they wish they had a camera. I decided at that point that I would offer that service to these families from that point on. At no charge, of course. At around 50 offers, no family has rejected the offer. There are many tips that I could offer concerning military funerals, and many are the same as the authors. With military funerals it's important to know the process, the order in which events take place, ie, 21 gun salute, playing of taps, and the folding of the flag. All offer memorial pics that the family will cherish. Don't be shy! Ask an attending member of the Honor Guard for help. They are pleased to accommodate. Communication, as stated, is very important. The family being informed is crucial, but it would be a real courtesy to fill the funeral director on as well. If there are many other people attending, I'm not so concerned with their feelings in this matter. It's the family's wish to be filled, not there's. Remember that the family will 'have blinders on' during the ceremony. They are pretty much focused on what's directly in front of them. So, take as many pics as you can. That way they will see later all that they missed. Also, if you are the only photographer and are going to take a lot of pics, don't be fussy about composition. That takes time, and you won't have it if you get the number of pics you need. You can crop and do touch up in post to make up for the rush in your work. I normally take 300-400 for a one day event. Double for 2 days. I create a slide show for the family, with music accompaniment. iTunes is loaded with appropriate music. Out of the 3-500 pics, I usually have maybe 2 or 3 that I will print and have framed with matting. Usually, of the flag folded on the lap, or maybe while being folded by the Honor Guard. It's a lot more work involved with a military funeral, but the satisfaction of knowing I have left the family with an heirloom that will survive for generations is joy for me. Before you make judgements about this type of photography, please view some of my work at webshots. And, understand that I am not a professional!

  • Courtney April 15, 2012 02:33 pm

    I have tears on my face watching the slide show. You did an amazing job. What a tremendous gift for that family! Beautiful.

  • Jorgelina April 15, 2012 01:44 pm

    I'm moved to tears...

  • Regan April 15, 2012 12:03 pm

    Thanks for sharing. A funeral is part of the change processes family and friends go through. I know the pix that we had from after my wife's funeral 10 years ago mean much to me and my sons. Different emotions are felt by different people. I agree that the family needs to agree about what is photographed as emotions run high. I also think that the venue makes a difference. A small funeral home chapel is much different from a church funeral. In all cases, be sensitive to those around you.

  • Lori April 15, 2012 07:49 am

    I am so glad to see this article. I am on OB nurse and one of the worst times I can remember was a mom who was in a coma when she gave birth to a stillborn baby. With the families permission I took pictures of her with the baby and the babies fingers wrapped around her finger. I wanted her to know that she had touched her baby. I wish more people knew about the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Organization. They are such a special group of people to do this. I'm kind of the department photographer and do lots of pics of our NICU families to chronicle their journey also.

  • Justin Williams April 15, 2012 07:30 am

    Thank you so much for the article. I have never been asked to do that but likely will be some day. I have a son that had cancer as a child. He is all better now but your videos really hit close to home. Didn't help that I am LDS also. You really did a wonderful job capturing the feeling of the funeral. The family will forever cherish the gift that you gave them.

  • Rena April 15, 2012 02:07 am

    Great advice. 30 years ago my father died after a short battle with cancer. He was 46, I was 23 and the oldest of 4 children. With my mother's blessing I took photos of dad and the flowers before the service started and then during the service at the cemetery, which was at a National Cemetery. In a way it helped me focus so I didn't fall apart. Those pictures help us remember the family and friends who came from all over the US to share in a time of sadness the many good memories they had of dad. They also help show his grandchildren he was a well loved and respected man. I have offered to take pictures for several friends in their time of grief and they all have been grateful as many times we are numb to what is happening around us and just don't remember the details.

  • Paul Kelly April 15, 2012 12:34 am

    A moving but wonderful article. Not quite the same scenario but a couple of years ago I attended my Uncles funeral. Before the ceremony both myself and another Uncle (his brother) simultaneously realised that this was the first time in ages that so much of the family were together at the same tim & I was asked to take some photos of the family.

    The primary reason was because we had five generations of family together that day (including this uncles great grandson & his own mother - my grandmother). I debated at the time whether it was "appropriate" of me to have been taking photos at such a time but then, a few months later my grandmother sadly passed away & it became apparent that not only would these have been the only photos of the five generations but they were also the last photos taken of my grandmother.

    So, hard as it was to do at the time, I ended up being rather glad that I had.

    One way of thinking about it is that such photos will by far out-live any awkwardness experienced at the time...

  • Calelli April 14, 2012 10:35 pm

    What a great article (very thought provoking).

    I admire enormously people that have the strength to be able to help those that are grieving in any way that they can. I recently came across a charity that offers the services of professional photographers to families with premature, stillborn and ill babies in Australia. Details can be found at

  • Tim April 14, 2012 04:55 pm

    Sorry for the typos. Typing on iPad.

  • Tim April 14, 2012 04:54 pm

    Thank you for this post. I was a photographer in the Canadian military. I was sometimes sent to photograph funerals and always doubted why. Nobody explained ow this wold help the family and I didn't understand. I just remember thinking hoe bad I felt for them and wondering if they thought I was a monster for doing this part of my job. I wish I had of had the maturity to demand the reason why we were doing this. It always bothered me. But it feels better now and when I think of my fathers funeral I do think it would make me feel good to see photos of some of the man people who attended. I hope I did a good enough job back then even with my reservations in doing it, that the families benefited.

  • Erica Barker April 14, 2012 03:45 pm

    wow, the most emotion filled photos i have ever seen, well captured. thanks for the tips, i have actually never thought about photographing a funeral.

  • Erik Hansen April 14, 2012 12:30 pm

    Thanks for a nice article, funerals are not easy to do, I remember my first one which was both videotaped and photographed, A 26 year old young woman, from our Church, her father asked me if I would do it and while I was nervous and worried about doing this I prayed about it and knew that this was something I should do.
    two years later I did the Video and photography for her younger sisters wedding.

    I have done about four funerals now all on request by the families, in all cases we discussed what and how to shoot and also talked with the officiating minister, to make sure he was aware of the purpose the shoot.

    At the start of the service it was explained why and what we where doing. As long as you know when and how to take the pictures with the least amount of disturbance it usually work out.
    Like you said Natalie, communicate with all involved at all times.

  • Jody April 14, 2012 12:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, I too wish this had been a few months earlier as my Sister in Law died suddenly. I wanted to take pictures but didn't know how to bring it up, if people would think it macabre so I didn't. We didn't have a viewing, she was cremated but we did go see her to say goodbye privately and it would have been a good time to get some nice shots for my brother.
    Next time, I will bring up the subject. We did video and webcast the service, but I do wish I had taken my Nikon D700 and put it to work as well.

  • John Deir April 14, 2012 11:50 am

    I lost my wife to a 6 year battle of cancer and I knew I could never speak at her memorial. instead, I made a DVD/slideshow depicting her pictures. It was the first time ever I made such a thing and the pictures are just everyday amateur shots.

    Yes, they are not good pic's, but they are windows to memories, feelings and emotions. We all want to make and take the perfect picture. But we should not forget what they really are for you can not add a mask, airbrush on or add to these photos what they mean to me. They are perfect just as they are.

  • Deborah April 14, 2012 11:44 am

    This is the best, most beneficial post I have read in weeks. Thank you for being brave enough to not only take those photos, but to share with us what you have learned. I have taken your lesson to heart, and hope I don't have to use it, but will be better prepared in case I'm ever asked to photograph a memorial.

  • Fred Gary April 14, 2012 11:17 am

    I attended a funeral for a friend and one of the sisters wanted pictures with her deceased brother and some people thought it was odd. She didn't have the much of an opportunity to see her brother and wanted the pictures to remember him and their relationship and share with others that weren't able to attend the funeral.

  • Meema Esguerra April 14, 2012 11:09 am

    Hi. Thank you so much for sharing and for the advice. I'll probably use the same song as I am making a video for a friend. It's really touching and I know it is the proper song. I hope he appreciates the video as much as the family appreciated your service.

  • NotDadsW41 April 14, 2012 10:44 am

    Could have used this advice when I was asked to photograph my uncle's funeral about 3 years ago....

    It was a cold day in January.

    The Honor Guard was impressive. While the bugler played, the soldier on the left was doing his best to maintain his composure. He was choking up pretty bad. It was touching to know that he was that affected by performing his task for someone he'd never met.

    [eimg url='' title='DSC_4739-1.jpg']

  • Amber S. Wallace April 14, 2012 10:18 am

    Wow. Thank you for sharing such a personal message with us. It truly touched me and as a photographer I greatly appreciate you writing from both standpoints. I pray for a greater healing each day for your family. Thank you again.

  • jamie April 14, 2012 10:01 am

    I think this is fits in with life. more so these days. we photograph people all though there life so why not for their birth into the next stages of live. I don't like the word death as it means end and as long as a person is remembered there is still a life being lived though family and friends. I feel this is a fitting tribute to remember a person in all their life and would feel greatly honoured to photograph this part of their life if asked.

  • wri7913 April 14, 2012 09:51 am

    Nice post! Thanks for sharing.

    I will add one more thing.

    All the funerals in my family have also been an opportunity to reconnect with the family. There is often a feel of a family reunion but for a sad reason. Definitely you should grab some of the emotions but also be on the lookout for times when the family are together and communicating again. You will see it in the body langauge and the groups of people. Don't forget this aspect.

  • Ann Strober April 14, 2012 09:28 am

    A friend died in March of this year. I asked his spouse if I could take photos at the memorial gathering. She agreed without hesitation. The photos were good and I was asked to send them by email to a number of relatives and friends. The only time people from all parts of a life are together is at weddings and funerals. I am considering offering my services in my community. Taking photos at events is the only way I can stand going to them. It is nice that people are associating me with my camera and really like my stuff.

  • Shelly April 14, 2012 09:23 am

    Simply beautiful.

  • Jodi Orgill Brown April 14, 2012 08:43 am


    Your article is well-written and sensitively addresses a difficult subject, but the photos and video speak for themselves. You have a beautiful talent that you so kindly choose to share with others. Your personal perspective and history adds to the beauty of these photos, as you knew exactly what to capture. I do not know Kalyn, but I sobbed as I watched 4:38 seconds of loved ones saying their good byes to one of God's amazing children. Thank you for what you do, and for sharing so much of yourself with all of us!

    Jodi Orgill Brown

  • hubblefromthesun April 14, 2012 08:28 am

    Thank you for this wonderful article. My uncle unexpectedly died in front of me a week after his youngest daughters' wedding. I remember him but unfortunately didn't take a picture of him despite taking so many. The funeral was such a difficult time that emotionally I zoned out. I wasn't ready to fully grieve then but pictures helped to do so after.

  • Scottc April 14, 2012 08:15 am

    I'd never be able to do it myself, but the advice in this article would be invauable if I could.

  • Anh April 14, 2012 07:01 am

    Wow, those are some beautiful and moving images. You captured moments, not actions. You did a great job softening the harshness of a grim event. Funeral photos can be very jarring and painful to look through, as you have personally experienced. I wished you had been our photographer when my Dad passed away 3 years ago. I still can't bring myself to look at the photos from that day. Maybe if the images had come through your lens, it would have made it easier. Maybe it would help me heal faster.

  • Alexander Rose April 14, 2012 04:13 am

    Using 50mm on a full frame body means pretty much sticking the lens into people's faces.
    I'd definitely use a longer focal length to maintain some distance.

  • Flavia April 14, 2012 04:11 am

    Hi Natalie,

    nice article, but please tell us: which subjects are "classics", safe shots at funerals? I can't figure out oO

  • Fonk April 14, 2012 03:46 am

    I wonder, do photographers offer these services professionally (would people hire that kind of service?), or is it almost always a friend or family member that does the photographing? Just curious.

  • steve slater April 14, 2012 03:38 am

    I have never photographed a funeral and would be very reluctant to do so.
    The nearest I got was to photograph a graveyard in Spain a little eerie but picturesque

  • Jeff E Jensen April 14, 2012 03:16 am

    Excellent article, Natalie. I wish we had photos from our daughter's funeral. Fortunately, I have not had a lot of opportunity to shoot funerals, but it is a service I've offered and will continue to offer to friends and family. Your tips are all excellent and worth remembering.

    The last funeral I attended was for my grandfather. He lived a long, full, good life. The family gathered for three days of celebration of his life. He was 103 years old, there was much to celebrate. I didn't take a lot of images during the funeral, but I did take a few. Here are a couple of my favorites:

  • Sabrina Hoglen April 14, 2012 02:33 am

    I honestly do not know what to say...I pray that I am never ask to photograph a funeral because I do not know that I would have the strength to do it as you and Jon have. This post has deeply touched me on a level I cannot even begin to describe. I am so sorry for your loss the loss of that lovely young girl. The emotion that came through in all of these photographs brought me to tears and has made me pray that God would help me to help others heal through this art. Thank you so much for posting this and it has honestly changed my view of photography more than ever. Bless all of you.

  • Mike Hoffman April 14, 2012 02:25 am

    Natalie, thank you for writing about this. You've covered a very difficult and sparsely discussed topic, and you have given advice both from the heart and from the head. Your suggestions and sensitive treatment here will doubtless help others, myself included, who are faced with this challenging situation in the future.


  • Shannon April 14, 2012 02:24 am

    I, too, had to photograph a funeral. A good friend's father died of cancer and they asked me to photograph the funeral. He was a soldier, a police officer and hero. I had the pleasure of socializing with him on a few occasions and he was every bit of the kind of man you want to be. It was an honor as well as a struggle to photograph as every moment brought tears to my eyes. And believe me, it's hard to look through a viewfinder when you can't see anything but tears.

    Here is a video slideshow of my shots:

  • Jesse Kaufman April 14, 2012 01:48 am

    Great article ... I've been asked to photograph funerals on a few occasions and I could've used these tips back then! I was incredibly awkward/uncomfortable, but trudged through, anyway (I doubt the families knew). Any more, I opt not to do funeral photography and, instead, offer my abilities composing slideshows for the funerals instead

  • Kam April 14, 2012 01:41 am

    Photography is more than just machine operation, exposure, aperture, etc. Just as painting is more than merely handling a brush. No-one would say that Rembrandt and a tradesman house painter are the same, yet both handle a brush well. The mechanics of photography are merely a means to the end. The end is achieving a record of emotions, significant events, or artistic expression to inspire emotion.
    I haven't read all of DPS, but this is the best post I've read here, the most unique, and (for related reasons) the one which is most about content and emotion, and least about mechanics. Photographers are (or ought to be) much more than just people who can operate a camera, and this post goes a way towards explaining the difference.

  • Jason April 14, 2012 01:32 am

    Thank you for writing this article and I am truely sorry to hear about your son. My wife and I lost our first born, also a son, and it was, and still is, hard to describe with words. He had a genetic disease that was diganosed while my wife was still pregnant with him, and we knew that he wouldn't live long. In the end, he lived for only 3 hours. Fortunately, since we knew what was likely to happen ahead of time, we enlisted the services of a photographer through the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep organization. We got some absolutely gorgeous and stunning photos of him, and us with him, and those are probably our most cherished possessions.

    I wish we had thought enough to have his funeral photographed as well. Your mind and memory play tricks on you, particuarly when you are going through something as stressful as saying goodbye to your child. It would have been great for us in the healing process (which we are still going through) to have some pictures of that day. Thank you for your article, not only for the tips on shooting this type of event, but also just for bringing attention to the fact that it is OK to have pictures like this. It's not morbid or weird, it can be beautiful and healing.

  • Sue Daigle April 14, 2012 01:29 am

    Natalie, I can't tell you how moving this topic is for me. I am a Hospice volunteer. Part of "grief work" for parents who lose children is creating ways to remembe rthem, as you did for your son ( Jonathan sounds like a very special and caring friend). For some it can be an empty space at the table on the birthday, a special memorial place in a home garden, whatever helps. The important idea is that special lost one is never forgotten. And doing this for adults can serve the same purpose. Have you thought of contacting Hospice about doing this? Our chapter often does one night topics.

  • Jacob April 14, 2012 01:24 am

    Thank you for this article. I wish it had been available a month ago, when my mother-in-law asked me to photograph her mother's funeral. In her case, she wanted photographs of the body, which was probably the most sensitive part of the task. I comforted myself by thinking back to the early days of photography, where most people didn't have photographs taken of them until after they were dead.

    The other sensitive part of the task is taking photos of people who are grieving and vulnerable. Weddings are much easier: everyone is happy, and they want to be recorded that way. This sensitivity was amplified by the fact that the decision to photograph the funeral was made at the last minute, and the rest of the family and friends didn't know that that i had been officially invited to do it, so they kept looking at me like i was intruding (which is accurate, in a way). That is why i'm glad you stressed the communication aspect of this type of assignment.

    Again, thanks for writing this article!